How to safely adapt your holiday plans in 2020

The 2020 holiday season will look and feel different this year for many Albertans due to rising COVID-19 cases and the restrictions announced by government to curb the spread of the pandemic.

The restrictions, announced on December 8, include a ban on indoor and outdoor gatherings, closure of certain businesses and services and capacity limitations on others.

“Celebrating virtually or with members of your own household is the best recommendation right now,” says Erin Roberts, manager of infection prevention and control at Covenant Health. “We are truly in this together.”

But this doesn’t mean Christmas is cancelled or that we can’t safely enjoy some of our favourite holiday traditions. It just means they will be different and will likely include some added precautions.

Admire Christmas lights from a distance
Taking a walk to admire festive lights and colourful Christmas trees is a long-standing tradition for many. This year, it may be safest to view Christmas lights and other displays by vehicle, and it’s important to maintain physical distancing if you choose to walk.

“Even if you’re doing an outdoor activity or walking down a busy sidewalk by yourself, it’s a good idea to wear a mask just in case someone comes into your space,” Erin says.

Carol safely
With group gatherings prohibited for now, you will need to get creative when it comes to spreading holiday cheer through caroling and musical performances. You could use virtual platforms to sing with those outside your household, send a custom playlist to a loved one or send a recording of caroling or musical performances to others.

And, of course, you and your family members who live in the same household can sing together.

Share crafts and decorate cookies virtually
If Christmas crafting and cookie decorating are traditions you share with friends and loved ones outside your household, consider hosting these events over Zoom or another virtual platform. Though not in person, you can still see others’ creations and make memories from a safe distance.

Enjoy the outdoors
While outdoor gatherings are not permitted right now, outdoor group physical activities are allowed with up to 10 people, as long as members of different households stay two metres apart. And since outdoor activities are considered less likely to spread COVID-19 than indoor activities, consider making use of your skis, snowshoes or skates with members of your cohort this holiday season.

Attend a faith service
Many places of worship in Alberta have adapted services to keep their communities safe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and will have virtual services available during the holiday season. While virtual services are considered the safest option, places of worship can also host in-person services with a maximum of 15 per cent fire code occupancy, as long as physical distancing and masks are maintained.

Volunteer to support a local charity
For many, the holiday season is a time to give back to the community. Volunteering can be a rewarding experience and is proven to have many positive mental health impacts, including decreased depression and stress levels (Mayo Clinic). Erin says it’s OK to continue volunteering this holiday season, as long as you follow a few precautions.

“Make sure that you do symptom screening before you come on-site and that everyone else is doing the same,” Erin says. “It’s also important to wear the right personal protective equipment (PPE) based on the activities, or you can look for other ways to support the organization from a distance.”

Enjoy homemade holiday baking with caution
Many of us associate tasty treats with the holiday season, particularly those that are homemade. But with so many COVID-19 cases, Erin doesn’t recommend baking for others or receiving baking from those outside your household. Unlike commercial kitchens or restaurants, private homes are not inspected to ensure they meet appropriate PPE and cleaning requirements. For this reason, baked goods are safest when prepared in commercial or restaurant settings.  

Exchange gifts safely
It’s OK to exchange gifts this year, but it’s important to clean your hands before wrapping, giving and opening gifts to keep yourself and your loved ones safe, Erin says. Some people may also choose to quarantine their gifts for a few days as an added precaution, though the risk of COVID-19 transmission from gift exchanges is considered low. 

Try a window visit or virtual gathering with loved ones
Many of us equate the holiday season with quality time with our families and friends, but this year, connecting with loved ones will be different. While not the same as an evening around the fireplace or Christmas tree, paying your loved one a window visit at their home allows you to see them in person but from a safe distance, as long as you don’t go inside their home at any point. You may also wish to gather virtually through a platform such as Zoom or FaceTime, which at least allows you to see each other’s faces and have conversations. Check out some additional suggestions for safely visiting loved ones.

Continue to follow public health advice and guidelines
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been cautioned to take some basic precautions, and even though COVID-19 fatigue may have set in for some of us, we all need to remain vigilant throughout the holidays, says Erin. 

“We need to continue taking this advice seriously, just as we have since the pandemic began,” Erin says. “These precautions are key to keeping ourselves and one another safe.”

Public health recommendations include:

  • Staying two metres apart from others whenever possible
  • Wearing a mask
  • Washing your hands frequently, especially before and after eating and drinking and after touching your face
  • Staying home, isolating and getting tested if you show symptoms of COVID-19
  • Avoiding non-essential travel

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